Paris in the summer is a beautiful place. I love the architecture, the food, the fashion. Parisians are chic. They know the meaning of understated elegance and even the young girls, the teenagers and women in their early 20s seem to be blessed with an innate knowledge that ‘less is more’. By that though, I don’t mean less clothing as many of our Australian girls seem to interpret the notion, but ‘less flesh on display’. I was surprised by the number of young girls and women wearing hosiery and generally covering up – not in a prudish way, far from it. Perhaps we should have compulsory studies of Parisian style!
We travelled on the Eurostar to Gare Du Nord. It was easy. The trains are efficient, on time and very comfortable. St Pancras station in London is also easy to navigate in terms of checking in, getting through security and immigration and at the other end, I recommend that you avoid the touts looking for ‘private cab’ business and head straight to the taxi line or a connecting train.
We caught a taxi to our hotel in St Germain, a far more central location in the Fifth Arrondissment than our previous stay in the Fifteenth. But it wasn’t a completely unfamiliar area as we had done quite a lot of walking there on the last visit. The hotel had recently been refurbished and I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the room and the bathroom. At least we weren’t going to trip over our bags for the next few days!
The weather was cool and sunny, but still quite a lot warmer than the UK. I was beginning to worry that I had a suitcase full of winterish clothes and our next destination was Hong Kong, so a little bit of shopping needed to be done too. We visited the Galleries Lafayette but to tell the truth I found it all completely overwhelming. The store is beautiful, quite possibly the most beautiful department store in the world (by their own reckoning and mine) but there was just too much choice and in the end I found myself desperate to get out. Perhaps if there had been no language barrier, I might have found it easier but I wasn’t up for this big a challenge (and I didn’t feel like torturing Ian for hours either!). So instead we found a taxi and headed to Sacre Coeur on top of Montmarte. The view from the top is fantastic and shows just what a low rise city Paris is, except for a few small pockets of high rise in areas like La Defense.
Last time we were in Paris I remember there were a couple of pet shops along the Seine quite close to The Louvre. Clearly trade has been booming as there are now more than ten of them. The shop assistants all wear lab coats and the places are very clean and professional. The dogs and cats cost a small fortune too. Which brings me to one little (and sometimes not so little) thing that I wish would change in Paris. I simply do not understand why Parisians don’t pick up after their animals. There is dog poop everywhere. The first time we were there I don’t remember it being anywhere near as bad as this time. I was shocked to see people allowing their dogs to go anywhere and everywhere, and not a plastic poop bag in sight. We did see some poetic justice though one afternoon when we had stopped for coffee. We were enjoying the sunshine sitting outside (which brings me to my second little thing – have the French heard about lung cancer? It’s caused from smoking – which every second person seems to do). Anyway, I digress. While sitting at the café we watched a fellow walking his dog. It was a cute little thing but decided to take a poop right outside the café on the footpath. The man walked on ahead (leads seem to be optional too). The dog poo was avoided by numerous passers by, until the man returned and stepped right in the middle of it. Ian and I couldn’t help but smile.
We visited the Palace of Versailles on Tuesday. They say it’s not the best day to go as many tourists head there at the start of the week (the palace is closed on Mondays) but it looked like the best day in terms of the weather and we were willing to take our chances. We negotiated the Metro, which wasn’t difficult at all, getting on the train at Notre Dame. The trains are relatively clean and efficient and it took about 45 minutes to get there.
I can now understand why the peasants in France hated the aristocracy. We’d seen some beautiful castles and stately homes in the UK but nothing quite prepared me for the opulence of Versailles. To think there were millions starving to death and the king and queen and their entourage lived in such luxury is almost unimaginable. But I’m glad they didn’t burn it down as it truly has to be seen to be believed.
My second attempt at shopping happened on the Boulevard St Germain where Ian and I walked for hours one morning. And while I couldn’t afford to do any more than window shop for much of the avenue, I did find one boutique that was reasonable priced and had the most wonderful sales assistant. She ran around finding me numerous dresses to try on and was very honest in her assessment. Her English was about as good as my French but we had fun and I walked away with two lovely dresses. That day ended up at the Eiffel Tower and then a boat cruise up and back on the Seine. Paris from the river is lovely too.
So we left them to their effusive farewells and then waited for her to return to her desk. Then I walked over and told her that I had just been on a book tour in the US and UK for almost three months and I wanted to leave my books with them. Mind you, all in pretty good condition; a full set of Australian series and the first two US books in hardback. To say that her response was underwhelming would be putting it mildly. I was under no illusion that she would have any idea what the books were or who I was, but a simple thank you would have been nice. She took the books and set them on the counter and looked at me. Now I would at this point have been thinking that perhaps she was French and didn’t speak English, except that when she was saying good bye to the young man, she was clearly American too and spoke perfect English. Ian and I both sort of stood there for a second and I said a little more about having been away and spoken to over 6500 children. She just looked at me, and then continued with her work. Honestly I felt like taking the books back and walking out onto the street to hand them to children myself. But I didn’t. Because I wouldn’t have been that rude! So, while I still love the shop, that particular shop assistant, perhaps not so much.
I hope that Alice-Miranda will find herself in the hands of a child or children who pass through Paris looking for an adventure! I’ve still got more of her Parisian adventure to write, but having been there makes such a difference. It’s the little things, the quirks, the smells and the tastes that I hope make the writing all the more authentic.
We left Paris that afternoon enroute for Zurich and then Hong Kong. Our flight was delayed an hour or so due to a huge thunderstorm, but no matter. We got there safe and sound and our transfer through Zurich was smooth – the Swiss are nothing if not highly efficient.